13 November 2018 | By Bill Kelleher Community

AI has come of age, but is British business ready to embrace it?

Artificial Intelligence is starting to deliver on its promise, but widespread adoption is essential to help drive the UK economy, says IBM's Bill Kelleher

There is little doubt about the transformative benefit of AI. CBI research from last year shows that business leaders see the adoption of AI and other technologies as vital for increasing levels of productivity across the economy. This is echoed by a recent IBM Institute for Business Value study of 5,000 C-Suite executives, which revealed that 82 per cent of enterprises are now either implementing or considering an AI solution.

This year Prime Minister Theresa May also called out her commitment to AI. Her vision is for the UK to become the best place in the world for businesses developing and deploying AI to start, grow and thrive.

It’s clear that AI has the potential to make a positive impact across every sector of the economy. AI-powered data analysis and automation are fueling innovation, driving efficiencies and helping professionals make better decisions.

One area that has seen real progress is customer services. Service providers have embraced AI-enabled virtual assistants that are capable of handling as much as 70 per cent of customer queries. Using technology such as natural language processing, these systems can identify when it is time for the human support team to take over, ensuring a seamless experience for the customer. Wait times go down, and satisfaction goes up – it's a win-win for both business and customer.

Understanding the barriers to adoption

This all paints a very optimistic picture. Widespread adoption of this new technology and the business benefits it can bring is therefore essential for a robust, vibrant and competitive economy. So it’s vitally important to understand the roadblocks UK businesses face on their AI journey.

Unsurprisingly, the scarcity of specific data skills and resources is the number one barrier according to the IBM Institute for Business Value study, while trust and transparency issues are  becoming of greater concern.  

Work is already well underway to tackle the skills issue. At IBM, we realise the importance of building up our next generation workforce and developing our partnerships with universities and other academic institutions in the UK and further afield. This is an essential part of making sure new graduates and apprentices are equipped for the demands of tomorrow’s AI-powered workplace. 

AI itself can also effectively close skills and knowledge gaps in other areas of the economy. By augmenting a worker’s ability to make better informed decisions, it can help increase efficiency in functions that have been historically difficult to resource effectively. It opens the door to so-called 'new collar' jobs, where people from non-traditional backgrounds take up roles in technology and other industries where a degree has typically been required.  

To help businesses formulate their strategies for actionable and effective use of AI, there are four factors every business leader should consider:

  1. Strategy: Don’t forget the “why” - Your AI strategy needs to be driven by the business values and outcomes you want. AI is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Start with the end goal in mind.
  2. Data: There is no AI without data - When enterprise data is coupled with external data and made accessible via a platform, you can unlock endless AI opportunities. Without accessible data in the right format, there is no AI.
  3. Execution: Avoid AI tourism - Understand the need, build the solution, and execute with scale in mind.
  4. Change: change heads, hearts, and hands - Building the necessary skills to enable technological and process change requires significant change management. Focus on successfully re-training your talent pool, maintaining the culture, and achieving scale.

As we get ready to enter a year of great change in the UK, now is the time for business leaders to be forward-looking. AI is one of the most important changes an organisation can make now to increase competitiveness and deliver real business value.

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